Hall of Famer Pak shares State Farm lead

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak (pictured) shot a bogey-free 6-under 66 on Thursday for a share of the first-round lead with fellow South Korean Jee Young Lee in the State Farm Classic.

A five-time major winner, the 31-year-old Pak is seeking her first top-10 finish in 10 starts this year. If she does, it’ll come against a field that features 49 of the LPGA Tour’s top 50 money winners.

Kris Tamulis opened with a 66, and Natalie Gulbis, Suzann Pettersen and Anja Monke shot 67s at Panther Creek in the final tuneup for the McDonald’s LPGA Classic next week at Bulle Rock in Maryland.

Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer were in a large group at 69, and Michelle Wie shot a 70. Kraft Nabisco winner Brittany Lincicome was in danger of missing the cut after opening with a 75.

Pak, however, was on target.

Seeking her 25th LPGA Tour win and first since the 2007 Jamie Farr Classic, she had six birdies — three on the final four holes — in tying her lowest round this year.

“Lately, my game’s been getting pretty settled down — getting closer and closer each week,” said Pak, who has finished no higher than 13th this year and is 44th on the money list.

With the season’s second major coming up next week, the timing is pretty good. Pak won the 2006 event at Bulle Rock, beating Karrie Webb in a playoff.

Pak began the day by hitting a sand wedge to 15 feet on par-5 first and completed her round with a flurry, birdying three of the final four holes.

She was at 3 under when she hit a good tee shot and drove a wedge to about 10 feet for the birdie on the par-4 15th and two-putted from 35 feet for birdie on the par-5 16th. She finished the round with a 7-iron to about 15 feet on 18.

Relatively unknown, Lee tied for 10th at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in February and tied for ninth at the MasterCard Classic the following month. Now, she’s off to a good start at the State Farm — a bogey on the par-3 14th aside. She finished the day by knocking a 6-iron 6 feet from the cup for a birdie on No. 9.

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